Cats are playful and frisky, and when they are young they will jump at any opportunity to play with their siblings. When they leave their litter, many will live in a home without other cats, but they can still play with the help of toys and cat-specific furniture. The act of play helps cats to learn survival skills like chasing, stalking and trapping prey. This explains why they love to play with fast-moving objects, since these mimic the movement of prey. One such object is a feather toy, but are these toys safe?
Are feather toys safe for cats?
Yes, feather toys can be safe for cats, but only if your cat is supervised when playing with them. If your cat plays with feather toys, you should keep an eye on her to make sure she is safe and does not accidentally ingest any feathers that fall off the toy. Feathers tend to come loose from low-quality feather toys faster than from the more durable ones.
Most commercially-available feather toys use synthetic feathers, which could be made with harmful dyes or materials, so your cat could be harmed if she is not properly supervised when using these toys.
Why are cats attracted to feather toys?
Cats are attracted to feather toys because of their predatory instinct. The feathers’ rustling sound and their soft, fluttery movement resemble that of birds, which is a favorite prey for cats.
Risks and health issues associated with feather toys
When buying feather toys, research the toy manufacturer so that you know you are buying from a reliable source.
There is a high risk of ingestion with these toys, so it is best to avoid giving a kitten feather toys until she is over her initial teething phase and is at least four months of age.
Feather toys also have sharp ends that could injure your cat, and broken feathers can be a cutting hazard, so always check the toy before giving it to your cat. These toys have plastic parts that can be chewed into sharp pieces, so always supervise your cat while she plays with them.
If any part of a feather toy is chewed and ingested, it could cause health problems and possibly damage your cat’s intestines. She may become constipated, or may even require emergency surgery. Dyes used in these toys could also cause allergic reactions that may be life-threatening.
Signs that your cat has ingested feathers
If your cat has been playing with a feather toy and she suddenly starts sleeping or lying around more than usual, she may have swallowed some feathers.
2. Loss of appetite
Your cat may stop drinking water, or may lose her appetite for meals. If she behaves like this for more than a day, take her to the vet.
3. Bloody or black stools
Be concerned if you notice blood in your cat’s litter box. Take her to the vet at once, as this could indicate internal bleeding.
Vomiting out the feathers is a good sign, but if your cat vomits excessively and you see any blood, seek veterinary care.
Increased aggression could be due to stomach pain caused by ingested feathers.
If you see that your cat has ingested feathers, monitor her for at least a day and encourage her to drink water regularly. If you have any concerns whatsoever, it is safest to take her to the vet for a thorough assessment and checkup.
Safe alternatives to feather toys
- Plastic balls with built-in bells
- Well-sewn plush toys with catnip
- Kickers or pillow-like toys coated with catnip
- Laser toys
- Natural peacock feathers that have no dyes and are naturally molted.
- Natural batting toys made of biodegradable fiber or hemp.
- Feather flyers made from naturally-shed parrot feathers.
How to let your cat play safely with feather toys
- Allow your cat to play with feather toys, but limit her time with them.
- Only allow your cat to play with these toys under your supervision.
- Use a feather wand so you can control the toy.
- Do not allow kittens to use feather toys even under your supervision.
- Check the toy occasionally to see if the dye is coming off the feathers. Do this by rubbing the feathers between your fingers, or dip the feathers in water to see whether the dye comes off.
- Keep the toy safely in a drawer or cabinet when you are not around.
What to do if your cat is choking
If you notice your cat thrashing, drooling and pawing her face, she could be choking on ingested feathers. Open her mouth carefully and check if anything is blocking the airway. If you notice any fluid, turn your cat upside down to drain it out. If you see feathers or any object, pull it out quickly. If your cat is too aggressive to allow you to do this, take her to the vet immediately.
Cats are very playful animals and are naturally drawn to toys that incorporate feathers because they mimic the features and texture of their favorite prey. These toys are safe for cats, but only under the supervision of their owners. Limit your cat’s playtime with feather toys and check the toys occasionally. Also, keep the toys tucked away in a safe place when you are not at home.
Image: istockphoto.com / NiseriN